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_MG_3241 I love yoga.  I love to practice yoga, I really love to teach yoga, and I love how yoga has changed my life.  There is no shortage of articles written all over the internet singing the praises of yoga, or, as I lately read in the online publication Elephant Journal, dissing yoga.  The most recent controversial article that I read was titled something like “Why I Left Yoga”, and it was written by a native of India living in the US.  In this dismissive essay the writer takes issue with the Americanization of the ancient practices of Yoga.  She makes some valid points (the $100 LuLu Lemon yoga pants…which I have honestly never worn or owned),  but most of her reasons focused on what she refers to as the trend of white upper-middle-class women practicing yoga as a trendy entitlement rather than a true holistically beneficial practice.   I immediately questioned this classification – what is wrong with people of financial means to feel a deep connection to the ancient and time-tested truths of yoga?  Who really cares if a person is so moved by their practice or experience that they choose to have a sanskrit tattoo imprinted on parts of their body?  It’s not my thing, but I hardly feel the need to judge others’ choices.  What difference does it make if someone has felt such a resonating truth from the lessons of self-realization that they choose to spend their money on a trip to an ashram in India?  We live in a free country, thankfully, and it is one’s own prerogative how they choose to live, believe or spend their money.

I do think that yoga in America can feel hip or trendy, and that many studios have become “a scene” like a new club in Brooklyn might be “a scene”.  But that is what makes America so diverse and interesting.  Just as the sub-continent of India is home to an incredible variety of beliefs, religions, and languages, so too is this country.  Just because people with financial means are flocking to their local studio, or planning their next vacation to a yoga retreat, doesn’t mean that their practice, or their journey, is any less meaningful or justified as the single mom on a limited income wage.  In actuality, many communities have studios, gyms, churches and outreach programs that offer yoga for free, or for donation, to those who want to learn the art of stress-relief and mind-mastery through the practice of yoga.  Do all studios follow the principle of seva, or service?  Of course not.  This isn’t a perfect world and not everyone is in the business for altruistic purposes.  However, from my experience, most yoga instructors (myself included) teach because they want to help people find a better way to manage their stress, improve their health and live their lives more fully.  I don’t know many teachers who teach yoga only for financial gain.

So why do I love yoga?  I love yoga because it is a practice that anybody can experience anywhere.  There are no necessary tools or equipment (a mat and loose fitting clothes are helpful).  You only need your intention and your will-power to enter the world of yoga.  Of course, there is a learning curve that starts with letting go of a piece of your ego so that you can walk into that first class. Wearing designer clothes, having an understanding of Sanskrit, or bowing down to the archetypes of Krishna, Shiva or the energy of Kundalini are absolutely not required.  You just need an open mind, a willing body (ok, maybe only partially willing), and a beginner’s attitude.  Although I have been practicing for over 16 years and teaching for eight, it still require a willingness, desire, and discipline to stay with it.  That doesn’t mean that every single day I practice for hours – I don’t.  It doesn’t mean that I expect others to practice specific dietary restrictions or suddenly take a vow of austerity.  I don’t.  I love yoga because ultimately YOU are your best teacher.  Only YOU have your life experiences that formed your psyche and your body.  Only YOU truly decide what you need and want out of this life.

Practicing yoga requires a letting go of pre-conceived ideas about what poses should look like and how they should feel.  It changes day to day, and even from pose to pose, within one session.  It’s tuning into your inner knowing, that felt-sense of how your body and mind, and most interestingly your breath, responds to challenges.  Do you become restrictive and inflexible when things are difficult or out of reach?  Or can you allow the tightness, the discomfort, or the heaviness to move through you without clinging to reaction and discomfort?  Yoga teaches us to pay attention and to be the witness to how we respond in all situations of life.  It is the ultimate metaphor of learning how to navigate life with grace and ease.

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Right here, right now, I am loving this.  This is my mantra.  This is my prayer. This is my song.

This mantra was given to me by my teacher, friend and soul brother, Tom Kelly of Soul of Yoga in Encinitas.  He taught me years ago, and continues to this day, that each and every moment is a gift.  If you live in the past or constantly worry about the future, you are completely missing the point of life.  Yes, we have all heard this before, but how often do you stop the voice in your head and correct the incessant commentary by exclaiming (out loud if you need to), RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, I AM LOVING THIS!!!!  Try it.

Books have explained, ever since the written word, the need to live in the moment and to cherish each and every experience as it comes.  However, we humans feel the need to add commentary to everything in order to give ourselves the illusion of control.  In his book The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer calls this voice our inner room-mate.  He/she is always there with you stating the obvious, the absurd, or the fabulous little experiences in life.  Your room-mate never seems to respect silence, always filling your mind with different emotional states such as guilt, anger, lust, desire, frustration or disappointment.  What if you could silence that voice?  How would you determine your feelings?  Well, you would just feel them.  No judgement, no words, no reruns of past experiences, good or bad, filling your head.  You would just simply feel the experience.  That’s it.  No more, no less.  It can feel terrible, raw and painful; but then it is over.  It can feel ecstatic, incredible, and delicious; but then it’s over.

Our need to hold on to and constantly label our inner emotions creates a conflict with our perceived reality and the actual reality that we are experiencing at any moment.  This does not mean that what we feel isn’t real, but often the severity of our negative emotions negatively affects our body’s response.  If the majority of your thoughts are not of love but instead of anger, hatred, jealousy, frustration, and sadness,  your physical body reverts back to our evolutionary protective mechanism known as flight or fight.  A perceived or real event sends a signal to the brain which, in short, puts our body on high alert to protect itself.  The hypothalamus, or command center in the brain, sends signals to the adrenal glands and our involuntary body functions go into action.  Adrenaline pumps through our bloodstream, our heart beats faster, small airways in our lungs expand to take in more oxygen, thus increasing our breath count.  Our blood pressure spikes, our pulse increases, and the heightened levels of adrenaline triggers a release of blood sugar and fats into our blood stream from their stored locations.  We stay at this high alert level until the perceived (or real) danger has passed and our para-sympathetic nervous system tells the body to take a break and return to “normal”.   Over 50% of Americans live in this stressed state most of their lives.   Living like this is the antithesis of drinking from the Holy Grail, or finding the Fountain of Youth.

How do you overcome this constant stream of consciousness disguised as your inner room-mate?  First, stop and take three deep breaths.   Then maybe take a few more.  Focus like a laser on the place in your body your feel the stress or the pain originating.  Breath into that space and let the feeling pass through you.

So I ask you, can you find a place within yourself to find peace with what IS.  Right here, right now, I am loving this.

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Namaste,

It’s funny how busy we all are these days.  How often do we run into a friend and find ourselves repeating the same mantra, “its been forever since I’ve seen you!  We should get together…. it’s just been so busy!”  Sound familiar?

But then someone you love passes away.  Suddenly, nothing is more important than dropping everything and migrating to the place of mourning, to the center of the ceremony, to the final good-bye.  Everything in life is put into perspective at the time of a loved one’s death.  Meetings, classes, appointments, laundry, yoga…it all falls away when the impact of loss finds us and takes a strong hold of our heart.

I found this out again first-hand last week as my cherished Nana passed from this life to her next.  Although we all knew her time was near, and she had suffered for so long that this was a blessing, the impact of the words “Nana died this morning” were profound.  I booked my ticket to travel over 2000 miles home to my parents, put my house in order, and ensured that my kids were safe and secure.  Thankful for my ability to practice meditation and silent mantra almost anywhere, I flew cross-country with a peaceful yet grieving heart.  Part of me was actually excited to see friends and relatives that I see so rarely because of how “busy” life can be.  I pictured the reunion – the hugs, and tears, the telling and re-telling of Nana stories – and I found myself a bit excited; I actually felt …..happy.

And happy it was, at times, laden with heart-break, loss and sorrow.  Three generations came together to celebrate Virginia Lee Gassert as a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, and friend.  Small glimpses into her life-history were shared so that our younger generation can understand their roots and pass on her wisdom and “Nana ‘isms”.  I found myself stepping back at times and recounting how the love and union between she and my grand-father, her beloved Joe, helped to create sixteen individual and sacred lives.  A black and white picture of my grandparents, early in their courtship, shows them gazing into one another’s eyes, my Papa’s right arm around Nana’s shoulders, as in so many future photos to come.  The spark in their eyes is like the spark of life, as yet to manifest, but full of potential.  They were too young to understand that the power of their love would create and inspire so much love, honor, and individuality among their off-spring.

So the union of their love created life.  The preceding death of my grand-father had also brought all of the family together to celebrate his life.  The death now of our grandmother, mother, and friend again brought all of us together to celebrate her life.  So death awakens within us the need, the desire, the absolute clear intention that we all must pause, take a deep breath, and awaken within ourselves, the celebration of life.

Rest in Peace my dear Nana.  You will never be forgotten.

Balance of Light

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